The Royal Academy of Arts is one of London’s most impressive spaces. Not just because of the formidable grandeur of its Palladian architecture, but also the works by Michelangelo, Ruskin and Goya in its collection. For a designer to host a fashion show there is an audacious move. Can the clothes ever possibly compete with the history that ﬁlls its every nook and cranny? Absolutely, when it’s Simone Rocha, who presented her AW19 collection in its rooms earlier this year.
In less than a decade, the Irish designer has become one of London Fashion Week’s headline acts, forging a reputation as one of the most exciting young design talents on the schedule. Scratch that – one of the most exciting talents in fashion, full stop. With embroidered organza puffball dresses, ruched satin and brocade separates, bralets and corsets, grounded with ﬂat shoes and topped off with tiara-like headbands, the AW19 collection more than held its own in the Royal Academy.
Simone’s heart-singingly romantic aesthetic might seem like a world away from wild weather and mud, but Rocha’s view of femininity is nuanced and captivatingly contradictory – sweetness and strength aren’t mutually exclusive. Her woman is as at home in the galleries of the Royal Academy as she is down on her hands and knees, turning soil.
“I love contrast,” says Simone. “It is something that I’ve always found really interesting and stimulating. The biggest contrast in myself is probably that although what I do is so focused on femininity, I’m not a girly girl. I’m much more practical.” At her home in De Beauvoir Town, a “lovely green pocket of East London” where she lives with her partner, Eoin McLoughlin and three-year old daughter Valentine Ming, Simone loves nothing more than exercising her green ﬁngers in her own garden. “It’s a lovely mix of wild ﬂowers; at the moment all the tulips are starting to come up, there’s also a lot of wild grasses and I’m planting a load of herbs,” she explains.
It’s this love of gardening that’s helped inform Simone’s second collection for Moncler. Yes, that’s Moncler, as in: the Italian mega house best known for its sturdy down jackets and outdoorsy gear. Simone was part of the debut class – along with Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli and her friend, the menswear designer Craig Green – admitted to Moncler’s Genius Group, which sees different designers create capsule collections for the house.
Simone and Moncler might not seem like the most obvious couple but, like they say, opposites attract. “What was so interesting about collaborating with Moncler is that theirs is a completely different vocabulary to my label. The fact that it was active, sportswear, so technical, I thought it could be something really exciting and different,” she explains. “I was very much trying to put my femininity into the activeness of the brand.”
For her SS19 4 Moncler Simone Rocha collection (an edit is available at themodist.com), Simone was again thinking about protection from the elements, because “For me – growing up in Ireland and living in England – summer means rain.” She has a point (as we add piece after piece to our European city-break wardrobe wish list). The result is a collection that blurs the lines between the poetic and practical: vinyl raincoats appliquéd with ﬂorals, scallop-edged rain boots and lace-trimmed gardening gloves, airy nylon separates with puckered rufﬂes, and ﬂoppy hats tied on with tulle scarves – “like the old dears out gardening or at the Chelsea Flower Show.” (For the collection’s accompanying imagery and ﬁlm, she worked with Tyler Mitchell – the rising star who garnered global attention last year when he was handpicked by Beyoncé to shoot her US Vogue cover – to photograph her cast of ‘apocalyptic gardeners’.)
It might sound eccentric, but – as with her main line – deconstruct the different parts and the clothes are democratic in their agelessness and accommodating silhouettes. It’s exactly how Simone likes it. “I’ve never thought: ‘Oh, I need to pioneer diversity in my customer,’” she says. “When people ask, ‘Who’s your woman?’ I’ve always thought that question was so irrelevant to me, how I design and who I am as a designer. I’m always thinking about the female form, but also about what femininity looks like in the reality of today. It’s something that comes very naturally. Anyone can have an interest in clothes and incredible style; I don’t think it matters what age or size you are.” Case in point: Autumn/Winter 2019’s collection was modelled on a diverse cast that included Chloë Sevigny, 48-yearold model Kirsten Owen, and Jeny Howorth, the model who ﬁrst enjoyed fame in the ’80s.
By exploring femininity at both its most tender and its toughest, Simone’s clothes aren’t just empowering, they’re emotionevoking. “When people cry in a show, I’m like, ‘Yes! Success!’” she laughs (although, you suspect, only half-jokingly). “Fashion is so personal; it’s connected to your body. I really feel my power is that I can create emotion through dress. Whether that’s because of inﬂuences that go into the clothes that people see and it makes them feel happy or sad or disgusted or inspired; or when people wear them, how it makes them feel interesting or protected. That’s why I love making clothes.” And it’s why, whether it’s a raincoat or a sequin dress, women love wearing them.